The State of Origin series is right around the corner with both teams to be named after round 12. But which players deserve to make the cut? We've taken a look at the contenders for the contentious positions in both the New South Wales and Queensland squads, to see which way the statistics are pointing ahead of Origin I.
Despite last year's series loss and a new coach taking the reins in Billy Slater, many of Queensland's key positions appear to be straightforward selections. Kalyn Ponga is likely to hold off competition from Scott Drinkwater and Reece Walsh and retain the No.1 jersey, while Kangaroos duo Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans will play in the halves and if fit, Storm sensation Harry Grant will be the hooker.
That still leaves room to move in the outside backs and forward pack, with Slater and the Maroons selectors having the chance to shake things up after last year's series defeat.
Incumbents: Valentine Holmes, Xavier Coates
Xavier Coates is the leading try-scoring of this group through 10 rounds, and also has the equal most line breaks and try assists as one of the finishers for a Storm backline that is the highest-scoring in the league. With incumbency on his side, he's a lock for one spot.
Statistically, Corey Oates may have the other -- the towering wide man has been one of the success stories of Brisbane's revival this season, playing his way back into the team and potentially into an Origin jersey with the most run metres (173 per game) of any of these contenders. He also ranks second for tries, second for tackle breaks and equal first for line breaks.
Oates's rapidly improving teammate Selwyn Cobbo is the potential bolter -- another tackle break machine who is coming off a monster game against Newcastle (not counted in these Round 1-10 stats) which featured two tries, three line breaks and nine tackle busts.
A nod to Kyle Feldt, who has been in great scoring touch for the Cowboys and also boasts the second-most run metres and best defensive record of this group, and his club teammate Murray Tualagi who has been an excellent all-round performer including four try assists -- the best being a spectacular effort from over the sideline during Magic Round. Meanwhile Valentine Holmes could be set for a positional switch at rep level.
ESPN's picks: Xavier Coates, Corey Oates
Incumbents: Dane Gagai, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
Dane Gagai has been a proven performer on the Origin stage for years and one of the standouts for Newcastle this season, with his five tackle breaks per game easily the best of this crop of players. He'll keep his spot in the side.
The other is likely to go to Valentine Holmes who has made a very successful switch to the centres for the Cowboys this season -- at the expense of speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow who is now a bench utility for North Queensland. Tabuai-Fidow is likely to miss out on Maroons selection for Game One, while Kurt Capewell is likely to return to the forward pack.
ESPN's picks: Dane Gagai, Valentine Holmes
Incumbents: Kurt Capewell, Felise Kaufusi
Jai Arrow -- who tends to split his time between the edge and the middle -- is the stats leader in several categories here, ranking best for run metres, tackles and tackle efficiency. He also ranks second for tackle breaks and offloads behind David Fifita, who remains the best attacking weapon of this crop. Fifita's early-season form has been criticised, but six line breaks, 11 offloads and 26 tackle busts from his first eight games this season puts him ahead of the pack in all those areas and he's worth at least a bench role for Queensland.
There's a three-way battle for the remaining spot in the Maroons 17, with Felise Kaufusi the most experienced option at Origin level, Kurt Capewell a very strong recent performer, and Jeremiah Nanai the new potential bolter. Nanai has been a try-scoring machine so far this season for the Cowboys, with a knack for bringing down bombs close to the line, while Capewell is the only player here apart from Fifita with multiple line breaks from the first 10 rounds.
Capewell's utility value gives him an extra edge -- if there's any injury in the back five Capewell could switch to centre, with Valentine Holmes able to cover the wing or fullback.
ESPN's picks: Jai Arrow, Kurt Capewell to start, David Fifita on the bench
Incumbents: Christian Welch, Josh Papalii (Moeaki Fotuaika, Francis Molo, Tom Flegler on the bench)
Plenty of options here for the Maroons, with the first player picked in this role last year, Christian Welch, out with a season-ending Achilles injury.
Young Titans captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui is likely to retain the lock role after putting up excellent numbers for metres, tackles, post-contact metres and tackle busts this year. Raiders veteran Josh Papalii is also certain to keep his job as the premier offloader of the bunch and the only player beside Fa'asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika to register more than 500 post-contact metres from the first 10 rounds. Fotuaika boasts the second-best tackle percentage of the contenders and is also likely to be retained.
That leaves two more spots for bench middle forwards. Joe Ofahengaue, Francis Molo and Tom Flegler played for the Maroons last season and all have produced solid numbers this year, with Ofahengaue having the edge. Lindsay Collins missed last year's campaign after being a regular in 2020 and is producing strong numbers for the Roosters again. But two other players may force their way in after being standouts for two Queensland clubs.
Brisbane lock Pat Carrigan has the most metres and best tackle percentage of any of these players, and has been a big reason for the Broncos' revival in 2022. And Reuben Cotter has been sensational for the high-flying Cowboys, racking up numbers that bely his relatively small 180cm, 95kg frame.
Cotter ranks third for metres and first for tackles per game in this group, and is the kind of player that has traditionally thrived in maroon at this level. He could be a smokey for a bench role if selectors are willing to overlook his lack of size, and he could also potentially be used as a utility and bump Ben Hunt out of that role.
ESPN's picks: Josh Papalii, Moeaki Fotuaika to start at prop; Pat Carrigan and Reuben Cotter off the bench
ESPN's Queensland team:
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Xavier Coates 3. Dane Gagai 4. Valentine Holmes 5. Corey Oates 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Josh Papalii 9. Harry Grant 10. Moeaki Fotuaika 11. Jai Arrow 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui Bench: 14. Ben Hunt 15. David Fifita 16. Pat Carrigan 17. Reuben Cotter
New South Wales
The holders of the State of Origin Shield and the winners of three of the past four series, much of Brad Fittler's Blues line-up is just about set in stone. James Tedesco will captain the side from fullback, Penrith trio Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo fill the playmaking roles at halfback, five-eighth and lock, Damien Cook will play hooker and Josh Addo-Carr and Brian To'o are set to retain their positions on the wing.
That leaves centre, the front row and second row as the positions up for grabs -- especially with injuries to superstar duo Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic opening up two positions in the backline.
This is the most intriguing selection decision for Origin I, with two superstars needing to be replaced due to injury.
Tom Trbojevic had one of these spots locked up right up until he suffered a serious shoulder injury in Friday night's loss to the Eels. The reigning State of Origin player of the year terrorised Queensland in a roving role in 2021, while Latrell Mitchell -- now out with a hamstring injury -- wreaked havoc with and without the ball in the other centre spot.
So who replaces them?
Jack Wighton has done the job before and has been a standout in an otherwise unimpressive Raiders side this year. Stephen Crichton has the most tries and second-best defensive record in this group and could be rewarded for strong performances at the Panthers for the past few years, while Siosifa Talakai was (briefly at least) a tackle-busting sensation after making the switch from the forwards to centre at Cronulla this season. South Sydney's Campbell Graham has been rock solid with and without the ball in a clunky Rabbitohs backline while Zac Lomax has been a strong performer with the Dragons for the past few seasons.
But the frontrunner for one position is arguably Brisbane star Kotoni Staggs. Staggs can match Talakai's tackle-breaking ability while having much more experience in the centre position, and has lived up to his potential as a genuine attacking weapon in recent weeks. Brad Fittler may opt to pair two in-form specialists who are unproven at Origin level (likely Staggs and Crichton), or pick one along with one familiar face in Wighton to avoid too much disruption in the outside backs.
ESPN's picks: Kotoni Staggs, Jack Wighton
Incumbents: Cameron Murray, Tariq Sims (Angus Crichton, Liam Martin on the bench)
With Isaah Yeo the current Dally M front-runner and the incumbent Blues No.13, the game's next best lock (and occasional second-rower) Cameron Murray will get one of these spots in Fittler's side. He's been sensational for the Rabbitohs this season, and he tops the run metres, tackles, tackle efficiency and offload numbers for this group of players.
The other spot is wide open. Ryan Matterson has been the best metre-eater of the contenders, albeit coming off the bench most weeks. Keaon Koloamatangi has been another strong ball-runner, with four line breaks and four tries, while Origin veterans Angus Crichton and Tyson Frizell are the only players apart from Murray to register more than 100 metres and 30 tackles per game -- and they have the best tackle efficiency as well.
Penrith's Liam Martin has solid stats across the board, albeit with a lower tackle percentage than the rest of the candidates, while Tariq Sims was a fixture in last year's Blues squad but ranks last in this crop for tackles, run metres and tackle breaks.
Manly's Haumole Olakau'atu has done his Origin chances no harm with a terrific start to the season and he could be a potential bolter for a bench spot. An explosive ball-runner close to the line, he has the most tries, line breaks and easily the most tackle breaks of the contenders and could present real problems for tiring Maroons defenders late in the contest if given a shot.
There are a lot of worthy options, but we'd opt for the tried and tested for the series opener.
ESPN's picks: Murray, Frizell to start, Crichton on the bench
Incumbents: Junior Paulo, Daniel Saifiti (Dale Finucane replaced an injured Saifiti in Origin III), Payne Haas on the bench
Brisbane's Payne Haas is guaranteed a spot with the best numbers for post-contact metres, tackles, tackle efficiency and tackle breaks, while Newcastle's Daniel Saifiti may drop out of the side after a slow start to the season.
The other standout statistically is Parramatta's Reagan Campbell-Gillard, arguably having his best year in the blue and gold to rank second among these contenders for post-contact metres and tackle breaks. Teammate Junior Paulo isn't far behind and is the top offloader in this group (although he hasn't quite hit the heights of previous seasons in that regard) while Manly lock Jake Trbojevic has a great defensive record even if he can't match the genuine props for go-forward. Knights star David Klemmer has produced good numbers this year but has dropped down the selectors' pecking order in recent years.
Roosters lock Victor Radley and Sharks recruit Dale Finucane would have been in the frame for a spot somewhere in the team but are out injured.
ESPN's picks: Haas, Paulo to start, Campbell-Gillard and Trbojevic on the bench.
ESPN's NSW team:
1. James Tedesco 2. Josh Addo-Carr 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Jack Wighton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Payne Haas 9. Damien Cook 10. Junior Paulo 11. Cameron Murray 12. Tyson Frizell 13. Isaah Yeo Bench: 14. Nicho Hynes 15. Angus Crichton 16. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 17. Jake Trbojevic